On a wind swept day in Holland, Loes Gunnewijk took second place in a two-up sprint to the line at Omloop van Borsele. Her lone breakaway companion, Vera Koedooder (Sengers Ladies), took top honours.
ORICA-AIS was excited to have two sprinters in the race today, although the expectation that the race would come down to a bunch sprint was slim. Indeed, the field was split into several groups as the wind and crashes took their toll on the peloton. In the end, it was Gunnewijk and Koedooder who would stay away from a small group of chasers to fight for victory in Borsele.
“We had our two sprinters back into the fold,” said Sport Director Dave McPartland. “It’s the first time in a long time that we’ve had multiple options in the sprint, and we were pretty excited about that. However, we didn’t get too carried away with banking on a bunch sprint because of the wind. If the race came to a bunch sprint, we were going to prepare the sprint for Nettie [Annette Edmondson].”
The peloton today was massive – 184 starters. The combination of a large field and strong winds made for a lot of nerves on the start line. The race had just gotten underway when crashes took the first victims.
“Early on there’s a famous left hand turn,” explained McPartland. “It’s always a massive war to get into good position. We lost [Sungeun] Gu straightaway there in a crash. During the second lap, we lost Nettie and Gracie [Elvin] in a similar place. They’re all okay but their race was done.”
“Wind like this creates heaps of tension and stress in the bunch,” added McPartland. “It was enough to cause crashes from the start, and with the crashes, everyone wanted to avoid trouble and so that made a fight for the front. Maybe the wind was not as strong as in the past, but it was definitely strong enough to have a big impact on the race. The width of the road is only one car wide, so we can only get three riders at the most across the road for at least half of the 24k loop. When groups split across the road, even in an echelon, you can only fit six across. Today the wind was enough to really and truly split the race on the first lap.”
By the end of the second of five laps, a front group of 19 riders had formed, which included Gunnewijk, Amanda Spratt and Melissa Hoskins.
“We were well covered by the three we had left at the front of the race,” said McPartland. “They did a good job with position. The front group formed and sort of splintered a few times on the second and third laps.”
With two laps to go, Koedooder went on the attack and only Gunnewijk, Chloe Hosking (Hitec), Lucinda Brand (Rabo Women), Okensa Kozonchuk (RusVelo) and Nina Kessler (Boels – Dolmans) were able to follow. Behind them Spratt was in a chase group with four others and Hoskins further back in the second chase.
Early on in the last lap, Koedooder went on the attack again. This time, only Gunnewijk could follow her wheel.
“Koedooder has a fast finish,” said McPartland. “Obviously we don’t get to pick and choose which one of our three would be off the front. It would have been better if we had someone like Mel [Melissa Hoskins] up the road with Koedooder, but she had already been split from the front group. We knew it was a gamble with Koedooder, but we didn’t have too many options, so it was a gamble we opted to take.”
The gap for the two leaders fluctuated between 19” and 30” in the closing kilometres as the riders they had earlier dropped continued chasing hard. As the wind and hard pace continued to punish the riders, the small chase group splintered again behind the leaders. Brand and Hosking emerged as two lone chasers. Of these two, it was Brand who rounded out the podium.
“Unfortunately we didn’t win,” said McPartland. “We pretty much had the best numbers. Rabobank also had three but our three were stronger. Being so close, it’s always a little bit harder to swallow. Loes finished a strong classics campaign. It would have been nice if she could have won before she had a little break from racing. We did a really good job with what we had.”